One word: AWESOME.
Ok. A couple more words. The launch was spectacular, and went off on time and without a hitch (beyond a bit of ice on part of launch vehicle, but that they got off at the last minute). We did wind up at Banana Creek, and the view was primo. There were a bit of low clouds, so we lost sight of the shuttle pretty quickly and couldn’t see the separation from the boosters. But, the short time we could see it was completely worth it. The noise was terrific — low and rumbly, then building to dense crackles like the finale to the biggest fireworks display ever. I also wasn’t prepared for how intense the light of the engines was. You really couldn’t look right at it without discomfort. My favorite moment was probably when the smoke started pouring out of the base of the launch assembly, when you really knew “Holy crap, it’s gonna go!!!!”. Everyone was screaming and pointing and whooping it up. I did wish the President had come, because I get the sense that Obama doesn’t yet buy into the promise of spaceflight — I don’t see how he couldn’t have been moved and impressed by so many people with so much expertise coming together to make something so amazing happen.
And then five minutes later everyone was back on the air-conditioned buses trying to get the heck out of the 90+ degree heat and humidity.
From what I’ve gathered from NASA-TV and from conversations at various parties(*), the mission is going well. A camera on the robotic arm has scoped out the outside of the shuttle, and last I heard all looked pretty good, although they did go back for a second look near the nose. They’ve now safed Hubble, getting ready for it to be grappled on Wednesday a bit before noon. EVA’s (i.e. spacewalks) start on Thursday.
Other random notes:
Favorite free trinket? You know those little charms that kids decorate their Croc’s with? Ball Aerospace was giving out ones shaped like the Hubble Space Telescope.
Favorite item from the gift shop? NASA astronaut oven mitts.
Favorite unexpected surprise? Kennedy Space Center is in the middle of a nature preserve, so it’s teeming with wildlife. We’ve seen gators, raptors, vultures, bald eagles, turtles, and a crazy assortment of long-legged shore birds.
Least enjoyable moment(s)? Lines in 95 degree heat, with no shade. Followed by more lines. Seriously — it’s crazy trying to get that many people into secured launch viewing areas. We got there almost five hours before the launch, and still probably spent two of the intervening hours waiting in one line or another. When your kid voluntarily turns down ice cream in the burning sun because the lines are too long, you know it’s bad.
(*) Parties? Yes, shuttle launches seem to be like the Oscars.